He’s about decided to slip away, down their heating vent. He’s so diminished that maybe today
the remains of his body will fit between the vent’s slats and vanish. His wife’s whisper at breakfast cut
the final tether he once felt.
If he could relive the time before this mysterious condition took over, he would work the
garden. He glances out the kitchen window, past their backyard patio and the lawn to the garden where
tomato vines sprawl. He’s proud of what encloses them, the wall composed of concrete chunks from
their former concrete patio. Susan had expected him to use mortar to bind the pieces. He said, No.
He had in mind a Japanese castle where whole walls were made with only chisel and stone, no mortar. He
labored long with the hard fragments—an engaging puzzle—and eventually, after many weekends,
finished. “It’s too late to plant tomatoes now.” Susan scowled. Weeks later she asked for help in
planting six-packs of chard and spinach. He refused.
Then he no longer thought about the wall or the garden, except when presented at the table with
spinach or, the following summer, a platter of tomatoes slices with dollops of mayonnaise.
Staring through the window, he determines that several chunks have fallen and dirt spills out.
Susan had mentioned it, but he’d ignored her request and now he can’t hold a tool. Where his hands
should be, nothing is visible. His flesh and bones have become transparent. Insubstantial has become
his chief descriptor.
When did he last lift a mug? In his study he finds what he wrote, until his hands had too much
YMCA stationary bike. Pushed on pedals - can’t turn. Called staff woman - she spun them and appeared astonished.
Susan: “You appear out-of-focus. It’s like you’re fading!”
Had to ask Susan for a lift to work, because I couldn’t turn the steering wheel or
punch the gas. She asked me to see a doctor and I refused.
The doctor is mystified and orders tests.
Susan has to lift mug to my lips. Coffee spills and her smile dissipates.
From here on, writing proved impossible.
Fortunately, while his body faded, his memory
sharpened. He created an interior screen of his mental observations and reflections, since it’s imperative
to consider all the facts.
I can’t press computer or phone keys now. Susan punches my office number
and I receive a leave of absence. Doctor refers me to a specialist. The tests revealed nothing.
My legs are still substantial.
Susan goes to Garden Club. Reflection: Why does she invest in that club,
serving as Chair? She’ll need paying work.
I consent to additional exams. Still no diagnosis, nor treatment. Reflection:
fading to incorporeality appears inevitable.
As we walk to our Prius, I tell Susan, “The life insurance benefit will help, but not be
enough. What will you do?” Susan closes the car door on my hand. “My hand is in the door!”
But I feel no pain. She frees my fingers, but doesn’t apologize.
He evaluates. A pattern- his focus on the solid is perceived as a threat. His focus on facts and
material provision is not the gift he thought it was.
Today Susan stopped coffee service. Caffeine headaches. Only a slight
sensation when Susan lifted spoon of oatmeal to my lips. Spills discolor the granite.
Susan stopped feeding me and stared outside. “I’ve neglected the garden.” She
left, in faded jeans.
Did jumping and running in place and headache lessened.
My body’s boundaries can still be seen, though faint.
That was a week ago. He thinks back to breakfast and when he tried speaking. “Where to?”
She stopped the spoon. “Are you saying something?”
He strained to move his lips and tongue. Nothing. She resumed her concentration on fitting the
spoone in his mouth but it struck his chin and oatmeal dribbled down..
She slammed the bowl down.
“I don't know why I bother - each day you fade more. Today I can barely spot your lips.” Her
fingers pressed her temples, her sobs choked back.
“We can’t even kiss.”
Since then, the heating vent has pulled on him like a magnet. Before making his disappearance,
he must see again the vegetable garden and its wall.
He moves to the sliding glass door with its better view of the patio, the border of marigolds, the
emerald lawn, and gravel path to the garden. Many of the its stones have fallen and soil spills out.
Susan was right—mortar would have been better.
For some strange reason, he yearns to insert his fingers in the loam. The garden now pulls
stronger than the vent.
He waits for her return. Time crawls. When engine moans her arrival, he’s crouching at the door
leading to the garage, ready. It opens. He throws himself through the space between her side and the
No matter how hard he thinks, “Yes!” or “I’m sorry,” nothing emerges from his lips. Maybe she
felt a gust of air with passing by.
Going through the garage is easy, but on the patio the sunlight shoots pain into his eyes. He
shuts them and crawls forward, groping for something to orient himself. His body has become oddly
When he touches the splintery surface of a planter, joy streams through him. Once on the lawn,
he can open his eyes without pain. He’s half way across when he notice that the blades of grass cut into
his bare feet. He wonders at the sensation of materiality.
Some sense of heft, of solidity, spreads slowly into his limbs and chest. Could he be again
becoming substantial? He fears its a delusion.
His movement continues to be arduous. He summons strength to muscles soft from disuse.
They stretch like the dough Susan shapes. At last he nears the soft green of their vegetable garden and
the hefty scent of the tomatoes. It so distracts and beguiles him that his shin bangs into the wall. Oh, the
ache, but he is glad for it and what it means. And, oh, the plenteous fruit! Their red scalds his eyes.
Their scent ripples, dense and sweet. He could imbibe these tomatoes through fragrance alone and it
would indeed be enough.
He lifts up a hand and marvels at his palm and fingers. They are have turned translucent, like
Susan’s fine bone china, and even cast a slight shadow. Will this last? He inserts his hand into the loam
and grit pushes up and under his nails. He cups one hand, encircles a dirt clod and draws it out. He
squeezes. It crumbles. The delight feels eternal.
He’ll do a further test.
He steps down onto the grass and places two hands around a small fallen chunk. He exerts all
he can muster, but it doesn’t budge. He starts to wonder about re-entry. A door would be too heavy.
Without Susan’s notice, her coming here to him, he’s left to the growing chill. No easy slip
away in warm seclusion of a vent. Alone with tomatoes. Abandoned to dirt.
Reading, hiking, and pursuing various geographies--spiritual and cultural--are Carol's three-pronged thrusts. In the last few decades she has raised two marvelous daughters (an artist and a linguist) and taught English as a Second Language to numerous individuals or small groups. After six years of living in Japan, California often seems a strange place to her. Creative writing became her focus in the last dozen years and lead to earning a second masters, an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University.